That’s right folks, the Court of Special Appeals finally ruled in favor of the hard-fighting citizens of Frederick County against the ill-advised land use and development decisions by the Blaine Young led Board of County Commissioners.
The key argument in this appellate case was over the concept of “enhanced public benefits.” Essentially, in return for guaranteeing specific development rights for the next twenty or twenty-five years under a Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreement (DRRA), the county is supposed to receive public benefits that are above and beyond what they would ordinarily receive according to the Zoning Ordinance. That didn’t happen here and that was key to the DRRA being vacated, or overturned.
Think back to the summer and fall of 2014. Blaine Young made a lot of promises to all the developers that were bankrolling his campaigns, especially his failed campaign for re-election. He was pushing applications through the system like groceries at a check-out counter!
They were rushed. They were ill-conceived. They were sloppy and incomplete. And more than anything else, they were just plain bad decisions, that weren’t made in the public interest.
That was Blentlinger.
Rolling farmland and woods bisected by streams in the Lake Linganore watershed, with little road access and in an area with crowded schools, the Blentlinger tract was approved for more than 675 homes. And the county commissioners at the time tried to lock in the deal with a 25-year Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreement.
There was only one catch … I know, there was so much more than one, but bear with me … they never did an APFO LOU (an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance Letter of Understanding). That’s the document that actually binds the developer’s commitments to the county. In other words, Blaine Young and the Board of County Commissioners gave the developer all the guarantees for 25 years, and secured nothing in return.
Given these circumstances, I would like to think that the county was in an un-winnable situation, but they had won all the other cases that came before. But not this time. This time, you see, the county attorney – Kathy Mitchell – mystifyingly argued that the county’s position was that the DRRA law didn’t require enhanced public benefits. Not only that, but she did it before the very same judge that wrote the seminal opinion in Maryland law saying that Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreements must be matched by enhanced public benefits. I would say “what was Kathy thinking?!” but I’m just glad that she wasn’t.
So, what is next?
The Court of Special Appeals instructed the Circuit Court to vacate the Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreement. The zoning approval will still stand, but without the DRRA the future of the development is very much at risk. The developers may appeal. We’ll know about that in the next 30-60 days.
If not, I think there could be interesting implications for the other New Market developments – Casey and Smith/Cline/Calumet. They are all inter-connected. They mutually depend on roads and schools. If one domino falls, might the others? More realistically, if Blentlinger doesn’t move forward, does the cost calculation for a pending Casey developer turn too negative to pursue the project?
Only time will tell. For now, let’s enjoy a long overdue victory!
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